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First AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum: Strengthening Cooperation between Africa and the Caribbean

The Non-Aligned Movement has highlighted the importance of regional cooperation among the developing world. An important example of such cooperation in recent times can be seen between the Caribbean nations and those of Africa. On 7th September 2021, in the first-ever summit of its kind, leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Africa came together in Kenya to discuss the challenges facing the shared culture and address many issues. It opened a new chapter in the deep-rooted and strong relations between CARICOM and Africa. It set in motion various initiatives to further deepen and strengthen relations between the African continent and the Community.

Bolstering people- to- people ties, connectivity, trade and fostering unity among the regions were the key takeaways of this historic summit. In particular, the Leaders underscored the need to foster increased trade, investment, air travel, and maritime shipping links, with a view to realising greater economic integration and enhanced people-to-people contact between Africa and the Caribbean. As part of the objective to enhance trade, the first AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF) 2022, was held in Barbados from September 1 to September 3, 2022 in Bridgetown, Barbados. ACTIF 2022 was convened by the Government of Barbados and the Afreximbank, in collaboration with the African Union Commission, the AfCFTA Secretariat, the Africa Business Council, the CARICOM Secretariat, and the Caribbean Export Development Agency. The Forum was co-managed by Invest Barbados and Export Barbados.

ACTIF2022 was held under the theme “One People, One Destiny: Uniting and Reimagining Our Future”. It aimed to foster the development of strategic partnerships between the business communities in Africa and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) region, to bolster bilateral cooperation and increase engagement in trade, investment, technology transfer, innovation, tourism, culture, and other sectors.

Inaugurating the Forum on September 1, 2022, CARICOM Secretary-General Dr. Carla Barnett, highlighted the potential of increasing trade cooperation between the Caribbean and African countries. She remarked: “ The market represented by the African Continental Free Trade Arrangement is set to reach 6.7 trillion US dollars in value by 2035. Merchandise trade within the CARICOM Single Market stood at 2.2 billion US dollars in 2018, and with decisive steps taken recently to reduce non-tariff barriers, especially in agriculture, we expect further growth in the period ahead”.

She also mentioned that trade between CARICOM and Africa, which was in 2018 before the COVID-19 pandemic caused a sharp decline, is starting to trend back up in 2021 though at only 538 million US dollars. The top exports to Africa include anhydrous ammonia, alumina, oil drilling tubing and material, sauces and condiments, frozen orange juice concentrate, with Morocco, Ghana and South Africa being the main importers from CARICOM.

The top ten imports from Africa include – LNG, vehicles, barium sulphate, bitumen and coriander seeds, with the main sources being Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco. She further stated that in order to grow trade and investment flows between the Caribbean Community and Africa, the infrastructure such as air and maritime distribution and transportation channels, needed to be strengthened and streamlined.

“We need to move to establish a multilateral air services agreement between African countries and the Community. Using this forum, and other mechanisms such as our mutual membership in the Organisation of African Caribbean and the Pacific States, we can continue to promote and forge business- to- business contacts through networks of private sector organisations and business development support organisations such as our Caribbean Export, which is our regional trade and investment promotion agency. We at CARICOM look forward to concluding the memorandum of understanding between the Secretariats of CARICOM and the African Union to strengthen collaboration to support this process,” Dr. Barnett stated.

Professor Benedict Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Afreximbank, told participants at the opening that there had been tremendous progress in accelerating the membership of CARICOM nations in Afreximbank and that signature of a participant agreement would enable Afreximbank to operate in the CARICOM region and deliver concretely on the new vision. “Once these arrangements are concluded and visible, we will also open an office here in the Caribbean. And if we do agree, the Bank will work with governments of the CARICOM to set up a Caribbean Exim Bank as an Afreximbank subsidiary or affiliate,” he said, adding that Afreximbank “envisages committing an investment of US$700 million in the Caribbean as soon as a regional office is opened.”
“We stand at the cusp of history to open a well of opportunities for Africa and the Caribbean and to leverage our individual and collective strengths towards the attainment of our shared prosperity,” Professor Oramah said. “The vision is clear. However, we must therefore be focused while recognising that there are so many hurdles to cross.”

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